“God shall enlarge Yafet, and he shall live in the tents of Shem.” (Genesis 9:27)
In the verse above, Yafet is blessed by his father Noah with a broadening of horizons. The very word ‘Yafet’ comes from yafe, meaning beautiful; Noah is blessing this son – the progenitor of Greece – with a legacy encapsulating physical beauty, aesthetics, the arts, philosophy, culture and the sciences.
Shem was, of course, the father of the Semitic people, from whom the Jewish people descend. According to the mainstream interpretation of the passage, Yafet was indeed blessed with expansive external beauty – but the essence of God was to reside exclusively amongst the tents of the progeny of his brother Shem.
A second approach to the verse is that “he” refers not to God, but rather to Yafet. In this interpretation, God will enlarge Yafet’s contributions to the world and those contributions, in turn, shall reside amongst the people of Shem.
Indeed, this is the OTS view upon which cornerstone the Monique and Mordecai Katz Integrated Studies Program was built.
OTS believes that we must emphasize the wisdom of Yafet and welcome it into the tents of Shem where it can be incorporated into the walls of the Torah and express the wholeness of life. The Torah and the Talmud provide a perfect precedent for this approach; nothing human is alien to their pages.
There is a lot we can learn from physics, from the natural and human sciences, from philosophy, history and economics. Modern technology can enhance religious life in so many ways; the interface between morality and Jewish law and economic thought can influence the kind of society the Torah wants us to develop.
Judaism can only be enhanced and its universal impact broadened when it embraces world wisdom into its midst.
This is why the Monique and Mordecai Katz Integrated Studies Program provides the future leaders of Judaism with an understanding and appreciation of the cultural and intellectual influences of the world around them.
The curriculum teaches other world religions to examine where we can intersect and where we are different. Gender studies are taught to determine how they affect halakahic issues of modern times. Modern science is introduced to inspect how it can improve Jewish learning and living, and more.
For OTS rabbis-in-training and hesder yeshiva students, these academic courses are not separate addenda or even a complement to the Torah being studied. Rather – as the Katz program’s name suggests – the accredited courses are fully integrated, so that students live out a fascinating interface between Judaism and the humanities, philosophy, social sciences, approaches to morality and law, history, political and economic thought.
A true spiritual leader will take into account more than dry halakha when arriving at a decision; he will consider other relevant factors, both environmental and individual, and must therefore be familiar with other realms of thought and knowledge in order to bring the wisdom of the world to bear on Jewish learning and living.
The Jewish leaders trained in the Katz Program can serve as effective filters for the Jewish people, sifting through contemporary culture and determining how – or whether – to incorporate modern insights and advances into halakhic rulings and daily practice.
In this manner, the Katz Program is harnessing the beauty of Yafet to better illuminate God’s presence within the tents of Shem.